Our lastest news

25th July 2018

New Research Published

Our latest research has been published in Nature Plants. 

Maezumi led the research identifying 4500 years of coupled human-environmental systems in the eastern Amazon. The research integrates lake pollen and charcoal with localised archaeology, soil test pits, archaeobotany, and modern botany to reconstruct the history of vegetation change, past subsistence strategies, and the modern legacy of past activity on vegetation and the hyperdominance of economically important species.

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56th Congreso Internacional de Americanistas

PAST was well represented at the Congreso Internacional de Americanistas in the beautiful city of Salamanca, Spain.

Project director Jose Iriarte was joined by Mark Robinson and Regina Gonda to present a broad spectrum of the research the PAST team have conducted.

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Iriarte synthesised data from archaeology, paleoecology, archaeobotany, climate, botany, and GIS modelling to discuss human-environment relationships in a paper entitled, “A tale of two forests: climate-driven vs. human-induced forest expansion in southern Amazonia (Tupi-Guarani) and the
southern Brazilian highlands (southern Je)”

Robinson presented two papers, “Mortuary Mounds and Moieties: Southern Proto-Je Dualism in Southern Brazil”, interpreted the archaeological record through ethnographic analogy to reconstruct ancient cosmology and social structure, and “Integrated phytolith, geochemistry and isotope results from El Triunfo, Bolivia” explored the human-environmental history around Laguna Versalles in the Bolivian Amazon.

Gonda presented a detailed analysis of anthropogenic soils in the Upper Purus-Madeira, analysing soil geochemistry, isotopes, and phytoliths to understand 3000 years of human influence on the landscape.


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PAST team presents research in Acre, Brazil: Simpósio Internacional de Arquelogia da Amazônia Ocidental, Acre, Brazil

PAST team members Jonas Gregorio de Souza and Mark Robinson presented research at the Simpósio Internacional de Arquelogia da Amazônia Ocidental, in July 2018 at the Universidade Federal do Acre (Ufac), in Acre, Brazil.

de Souza’s paper, “Estructuras de terra geometricas da borda sul da Amazonia”, discussed conceptual implications of earthworks across the whole southern rim of the Amazon, detailing the chronology and diversity in architectural forms.

Robinson discussed preliminary findings from recent fieldwork in Bolivia in the paper, “Pesquisas arqueológicas e paleoecológicas preliminaries ao redor do Lago Versalles, provincial de Iténez, Bolivia”.

The meeting was also a chance for the community to pay respects to our sadly departed colleague, Dr. Denise Shaan, whose pioneering research in Acre is the foundation upon which we build our research.


We thank the organisers, attendees and other presenters for an engaging and productive meeting.



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16th October 2017

Evidence for mid-Holocene rice domestication in the Americas: Rice domestication

In a new article in Nature: Ecology and Evolution, Hilbert et al. provide evidence from phytolith analysis for the domestication of native rice species in Amazonia.


The development of agriculture is one of humankind’s most pivotal achievements. Questions about plant domestication and the origins of agriculture have engaged scholars for well over a century, with implications for understanding its legacy on global subsistence strategies, plant distribution, population health and the global methane budget. Rice is one of the most important crops to be domesticated globally, with both Asia (Oryza sativa L.) and Africa (Oryza glaberrimaSteud.) discussed as primary centres of domestication. However, until now the pre-Columbian domestication of rice in the Americas has not been documented. Here we document the domestication of Oryza sp. wild rice by the mid-Holocene residents of the Monte Castelo shell mound starting at approximately 4,000 cal. yr BP, evidenced by increasingly larger rice husk phytoliths. Our data provide evidence for the domestication of wild rice in a region of the Amazon that was also probably the cradle of domestication of other major crops such as cassava (Manihot esculenta), peanut (Arachis hypogaea) and chilli pepper (Capsicum sp.). These results underline the role of wetlands as prime habitats for plant domestication worldwide.

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Exeter in the Amazon

The PAST team presented research from across the Amazon at the EIAA IV in Trinidad Bolivia.

Iriarte, Hilbert, De Souza, Alves, Gonda, and Robinson showcased recent discoveries, analysis, and interpretations.

Abstracts are available through the conference website

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9th May 2016

Brazil Amazon: Drone to scan for ancient Amazonia

European Research Council project ‘Pre-Columbian Amazon-Scale Transformations (PAST)’ launched at AAAs in San Jose.

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Drones to scan Brazil’s Amazon forest

Another interview with Prof Jose Iriarte about the background, aims and implementation of the PAST project.

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Humans and the Amazon: A 13,000-Year Coexistence

Prof Jose Iriarte talks about the PAST project and his efforts to understand human activity in and influence on the Amazon region for the last 13 millennia.

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Unmanned aircraft developed in São Carlos will help monitor the Amazon forest

A video report(in Portuguese) by the Brazilian television about the drone of the PAST project, which will monitor large forested areas in order to reveal the influence ofpre-Columbian societies on landscapes and vegetation.

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Climate change may have had a huge impact on ancient South American civilisations

Lead scientist discussing the human-environment relationships of ancient South American societies before the European Arrival in a workshop hosted by the PAST project.

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The domestication of Amazonia before European conquest

A new article reviews what scientist so far know about the plant domestication and landscape transformation in Amazonia during the Late Holocene.

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